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Hinted at in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, No More Heroes III came out 2021 as a Switch exclusive, despite the other entries getting ports on the PC and other modern platforms. Mostly out of obligation as the series did start on Nintendo consoles—so it’s only fair that the Nintendo players get first dibs. While Travis Strikes Again changed up the gameplay to the displeasure of the fanbase, it still kept a lot of the aspects people love about NMH1. And yet, people were not willing to play ball. NMH3 returns to the traditional format gameplay-wise that the series is mostly known for.
Travis Touchdown is in Santa Destroy once again, this time taking on alien invaders that want to conquer the planet. Jess Baptiste VI, also known as FU, comes to Earth with ten of his cronies. They make a quick example of their power by eliminating the majority of Santa Destroy’s population and claiming that unless they are defeated in ranking battles, they will take control of Earth. This whole situation is arguably Travis at his most heroic because he is specifically fighting to protect his town, allies, and planet. Although this doesn’t stop FU from making this personal to Travis, giving our lovable protagonist even more of an incentive to want FU dead.
In many ways, I’d argue that NMH3 is more of FU’s game than Travis, as Travis’ arc is pretty much wrapped up in Travis Strikes Again (TSA). NMH3 starts shortly after the events of TSA. It even takes the most influence from said game as many elements, characters, and themes are taken directly from that entry. Yes, that means you gotta play that “top-down spin-off” (or at least read my review) because director Suda51 will not explain these things to you. If you didn’t play TSA, you’re gonna be left in the dark about many aspects. Even with playing all the games, I was still left confused at some parts. Getting back to FU, a lot of the cutscenes revolve around our antagonist and how he interacts with his “friends”. The main theme of NMH3 is friendships and relationships. In FU’s case, it’s more about toxic relationships and how these negatives can have a bad influence on someone who is basically a spoiled child. On the other hand, Travis has a rather healthy (or at least healthy for him) support circle. It’s fun comparing the scenes of FU and Travis, and how both sides reflect what either of them could have become if events turned out differently.
NMH3 also goes insane with references. No More Heroes as a series and Suda 51 as a developer are no strangers to references. There are plenty of them in the subsequent games, and I purposely neglected to mention that in my previous reviews because I would rather talk about how the series stands on its own merits. But when the very first second to the last uttered is a reference, I have to talk about it at that point. FU himself and his back story are a reference to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. (Come on, just think about the letters that come directly after E and T). Dr. Naomi, the woman in charge of upgrading Travis’ abilities in NMH I & II is now a literal skill tree because Suda 51 wanted to reference Kamen Rider, or something.
Suda 51 also uses Travis and his friend Bishop as mouthpieces to completely gush over Japanese director Takashi Miike, constantly namedropping his work in cutscenes dedicated to Miike. Cutscenes and characters portray themselves like they are in professional wrestling with that good ol’ “kayfabe” vibe (wrestling code for 'keeping in character'). It’s his work in the end, and he’s allowed to reference whatever he wants, but I do think it does come at the detriment of sidelining fan-favorite characters and many of the deeper themes and questions can get buried underneath it all.
Fourteen years and multiple entries have done well for the gameplay of No More Heroes III as it has the cleanest refinement of the combat in the series. NMH3’s combat takes some influence from more modern action-adventure and hack and slash games, while also retaining the positives from No More Heroes I, II, and Travis Strikes Again. The combat has the snappiness of NMH1 with the responsive controls and quick moves, the feel of the weapon in II as it combines the weapon variety from the said game into one package in the Blood Berry beam katana, and the depth of TSA with the Death Glove abilities returning, such as slowing down time, and a powerful drop kick that also teleports you to the nearest (locked on) enemy. There still exists light and heavy attacks, but no more high and low angles.
To make up for this, enemies are highly unique. While enemy variety isn’t nearly as much as TSA, all the enemies you face feel different from each other and are much more than what I and II offered. Also, new to the series is a special ‘henshin’ form, where Travis transforms into a mecha suit and either blast away enemies or has greatly increased attack power and movement. This suit is used in a few unique fights as well.
The hub world has also seen many changes for the better. While NMH1’s world did fit thematically, there were many flaws in it that did make it a pain in the butt to navigate. NMH3’s world is more of the opposite. While the thematic parts are somewhat lacking, playing through it is fun. One main thing is that fast travel exists, so navigating through it is easier. Funny enough, I rarely utilized fast travel. Mini games have also seen a massive improvement in not only how they are played, but how they are accessed. In most cases, you can access the mini-games right from the location, and the mini-games have multiple levels increasing in complexity. You can start from any level you unlocked, unlike in NMHII where you have to progress in the mini games level by level.
Generally, I found myself playing the mini-games for the sake of playing them instead of forcing myself to play them. Some classic ones are back such as lawn mowing and trash collection, and there are new ones that are on the more absurd side, such as shooting giant crocodiles with a tank or mining inside volcanic caves. Because only a few handful of fights are mandatory, if you ever get bored or tired of the arena fights, you can always switch to volunteer missions to make money, or traverse the lands to find the many collectibles scattered.
In these hub areas, you have to explore to find “designated battles” that take place in arenas. Arenas are where the bulk of the combat takes place and also replace the more linear structure. Ranking Battles lead straight into the boss fight instead of a stage. The arenas visually do leave much to be desired as they can be bland at times and basic design, but the fights themselves also let NMH3 be a more challenging game overall. More than half the total fights are optional. I’m sure the arena structure was decided to let the fights run at a consistent 60 FPS on the Switch (or maybe not enough development time). At least the developers use this new structure to create some nasty encounters at times, making you use all of your skills to succeed. Currency has also been split into two types; one used for buying consumables and paying for Ranking Battle entry fees, and the other strictly for upgrades and this is a nice change. The entry fee requirements are also much more lenient compared to NMH1, so as long as you attempt all the new stuff in any given area, you shouldn’t be strapped for cash.
As NMH3 uses the Unreal Engine, the graphics and art style are different from NMH I & II—being more similar to TSA. I’d have to say that even from the beginning, I’m not exactly a fan of how NMH3 looks, preferring how every other one looks. While the character designs are great, many characters also look like they’re slathered in Vaseline. The environments also tend to look kinda bad at times from the Tonka truck-like vehicles and environments clipping into each or laughable-looking objects.
In terms of music and voice acting, the music has been slowly getting better with each entry. I might even say that NMH3 has the best soundtrack (although that will probably change in time). Nearly every piece is so exciting to listen to and the remixes of the main theme are just as great The boss themes also fit the design and personality of the character. If you told me my favorite song in NMH3 would be a sushi rap, and my second favorite being a musical chairs variant, I’d call you insane for how stupid that sounds. Yes, they somehow made it work. The returning voice cast since the first game almost sounds just like they do fourteen years ago, and the new cast sounds great as well, especially FU. His actor brings out the arrogant, spoiled, sociopath in FU and might even be the best role, outside of Travis of course.
As NMH3 is ported to every modern platform, the biggest question is how it runs. I wasn't too worried as it does run on the Unreal Engine, optimized for the PC platform. Unfortunately, I did run into a few crashes but all of them did happen in the late-game portion when trying to load into arenas. It only set me back ten minutes at most since I save pretty frequently. I also ran into a softlock with the gachapon system for collectibles, which is also unlocked later in the game. NMH3 is designed with a controller in mind, and having a controller plugged in makes it so that it is prioritized when playing. Keyboard and mouse controls can be bound to nearly any key or mouse button you have available. At max settings on a Ryzen 5 3600 and Nvidia 3060ti, it ran at a consistent 120 FPS at 1440p with minor dips for only milliseconds. I'm pretty sure with more powerful hardware and a higher refresh monitor, it can run even better as the frame limit seems to match the monitor (mine being 144hz).
I’ve been through three previous entries, and while TSA did somewhat tone down the violence, NMH3 brings back the ultra-violence. What else can I say that I haven’t said three other times? You slash through enemies, they bleed a lot, and they get bisected and decapitated gratuitously. You should know this at this point if you’ve been following my reviews of this series. There is an option to make the blood “mild,” but all it does is turn it rainbow, which makes some scenes even more disturbing. Language is also what you’d expect if you've been keeping up with my reviews. Constant swearing from multiple characters and God’s name is used in vain multiple times. Travis in battle rattles on about berries as his combo count increases (a reference to his favorite anime), but eventually devolves into constant usage of his favorite word, "f**khead" after the count reaches 100.
Sexual content is surprisingly toned down. While returning females Shinobu and Bad Girl are still dressed to “enunciate sexiness” and the cast of the in-universe anime “Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly” have pretty revealing wear, Sylvia doesn’t get partially naked this time around and manages to stay fairly conservatively dressed. However, this doesn’t mean that the camera (as in Travis) won’t pan to her butt every once in a while. There are some “sexually suggestive” deaths here and there, especially with a returning character from NMHII. One Ranking Battle has influence from Japanese horror, going through a haunted Japanese school. Crude humor still exists with the “method” Travis uses to recharge his beam katana, and with him having to use the bathroom for every save. These aspects were around since the first game, so it isn’t anything new either.
While No More Heroes III is all over the place, and the way that it ends is even more insane and over the top than how No More Heroes I does, this journey signifies Travis Touchdown’s conclusion—at least from Suda 51. There are also a ton of parallels between NMHIII and NMHII, so it also feels as if III was his way of doing “II but done ‘correctly’.” The series may move on without Suda 51, and whether that's a good or bad thing all depends on who will be at the helm. I believe just like Suda 51 that there isn’t any more you can do with Travis and this is his way of “putting him to rest.” So if future entries do come out, make it about a different character.
All in all, No More Heroes III is an enjoyable entry and from a pure gameplay perspective is the best in the series. There are still flaws present, such as the overall narrative structure with some pretty obvious cut content, but the pros outweigh the cons. With five difficulty modes and plenty of optional side content, there is reason to come back to as after seeing the credits 14 hours in, I still had plenty to accomplish whereas in the other games, I’d either be 90-100% completed with them. Morally, it’s still pretty low, just like all the others. While I only walked into this strange journey a few months ago, No More Heroes and Travis left quite the impression on me, and I’m sure it will leave one on you too.